Near suicidal embezzler, recovering compulisive gambler asks Senate…
By Allen Palmeri
March 2, 2004
JEFFERSON CITY – Steve Shanholtzer, a recovering compulsive gambler and a member of Jefferson Avenue Baptist Church in Springfield, came to the Senate Lounge of the State Capitol to testify Feb. 17 against three bills that would remove Missouri’s $500 loss limit clause in state law.
Shanholtzer used to hate having to stop what he was doing every two hours because of the limit.
“There was nothing more frustrating, more hindering and more irritating to me as a compulsive gambler than the $500 loss limit," Shanholtzer said. “That is why it is so important that it be kept. It is effective, at least, at slowing somebody down who is out of control."
Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, Sen. Jim Mathewson, D-Sedalia, and Sen. Pat Dougherty, D-St. Louis, see a $400 million hole in the state’s budget. By sponsoring bills to repeal the loss limit, the trio estimates the state can gain back $60 million to $70 million of that. The added money would guard against cuts in education and health care, Dougherty said.
The senators said Missouri is foolish to retain its law when it is the only state among 37 with legalized gambling that has a restriction. Because of the loss limit, states that border Missouri siphon Missouri dollars. Illinois gambling boats in particular have hurt St. Louis, the senators said.
Jacob told the Senate Ways and Means Committee that this is the 10th year he has pushed for repeal. Gambling proponents are trying to fashion a bill that would include the removal of the loss limit along with some form of increased taxation or limitations on licenses. The Feb. 17 hearing was the first step in that process.
All of which is missing the point, according to Kerry Messer, lobbyist for the Christian Life Commission of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
“This is about families," Messer said. “It’s about marriages."
Shanholtzer came to testify that gambling nearly cost him his family, his marriage and his life. He embezzled tens of thousands of dollars from his law firm to feed his eight-year addiction before hitting rock bottom in 2001.
“When I was at the height of my gambling, I’d lost all conscientiousness of what I was doing," he said. “It wouldn’t even phase me to take a check that was obviously not money that should have been going to me, go to my own bank, with my own ID, sign my own name and cash $10,000 or $15,000 checks and not even try to hide it. That’s how bad it got. I think that’s almost one reason I never got caught, because it was so obvious and clear and out in the open that nobody ever suspected it."
Finally, after he had stolen nearly $70,000 from his law firm, he became suicidal. He was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. His wife, Angie, and three small children hung in the balance.
“When I found out, it was devastating," Angie said. “In one split second, our life just fell apart."
Three weeks of treatment at an Indianapolis rehabilitation center and the Shanholtzers’ mutual faith in the Lord Jesus Christ saw them out of the dark valley. Now they enjoy testifying before governmental bodies about the serious side of gambling. Mostly they pose questions.
“Don’t the 60,000 families in Missouri torn apart and destroyed by the consequences of gambling addiction matter?" Angie said.
“If the casinos have really benefited education as was promised 10 years ago, my question as a citizen is, ‘Why do we have this big budget deficit?’" Steve asked.
As senators contemplate closing a $400 million “hole" in the budget by passing legislation that would authorize more gambling revenue, Steve attempts to impart his wisdom on the issue.
“We’re talking about real, personal issues here," he told the Senate panel. “We’re not just talking about budgets and money. I want people to understand it does affect lives."
Mark Andrews, chairman of Casino Watch, said Missouri gamblers lost $1.3 billion in 2003. If the loss limit were to be removed, it would increase to $1.6 billion.
“I think that we need to think long and hard before the state decides on a program that would take $60 million into its coffers at the expense of $300 million of the people of Missouri," Andrews said. “We don’t want to be adding another policy that basically makes losers out of our own citizens."
Steve concluded his testimony with one simple question. “At what cost?" he said, should the loss limit be lifted, particularly given the price exacted for his past mistakes.
First, he voluntarily surrendered his law license. Fully expecting to receive 12 months in federal prison, Steve was sentenced Dec. 17 to five years of supervised probation. He also must repay the nearly $70,000 that he stole.
“By the grace of God, I humbly offer my story with the hope that just one person will be affected by the severity of this insidious disease," he said.